People and Personalities
Simon and Emma Shelton
The odd couple!
Meet the pair who claim to be one of the strangest couplings in Bedfordshire!
As far as parents with unusual jobs are concerned, you’d have to go a long way to beat the Sheltons from Ampthill.
For not only did dad Simon spend the best part of a decade dressed in a purple suit playing the iconic role of Tinky Winky in the Teletubbies, but mum Emma drove a pink Cadillac and sung Aussie sounding songs as one of the Sheila’s Wheels ladies!
So how do their children feel about the way their parents have earned a living?!
“I think they’re quite proud really, but they keep it quite quiet now” said Emma!
“They don’t like to brag about it at school because they’ll have people making fun of them!”
And, as Simon adds, his job in particular raised a few eyebrows at their daughter’s new school, but only because they thought she might be living in some kind of dream world!
“When I was first doing the Teletubbies our daughter was just going to a new school” he explained, “and Emma and I were debating if we should tell the school it was what I did because it had become quite big.
“We decided to just keep it quiet but didn’t tell our daughter this” he added.
“She was collecting her dinner and the dinner lady said “Oh you’re new aren’t you dear?” She also asked her what her name was and what her dad did and Lydia replied, “he’s Tinky Winky”. But the dinner lady just said “Yes dear, run along!”, so in the end we had to go in and tell the school that she wasn’t mad!”
The Teletubbies were certainly a phenomenon and although Simon thought it was good as soon as he started working on it, he had no idea when he was signed up for an initial six month contract that it would be a job lasting ten years and more, and something that he would enjoy very much.
“I didn’t know it would be as big as it was, but I did know as soon as I started working on it, that it had something special” he said.
“It was actually pretty lovely, because we filmed outside in the middle of beautiful countryside for pretty much all summer. So when we weren’t hot and sweaty in the suits and being grumpy, we were in the countryside with some nice people, and a lovely production company who treated us really well. We had a great time.”
Simon also revealed that he had to do a series of tough auditions to get the role, and it was this that assured him that it was a serious job and not just mucking about in an eight foot six inch costume! This was very important to a man who had been to theatre school from the age of ten, and was in a ballet company in America at 16 before returning to England and doing the West End.
“I moved into choreography and then went into the Teletubbies so it was quite late on in my career really” he explained, “and I didn’t just want to jump in a suit and run around.
“But they took it very, very seriously because they take children’s education and development very seriously. It was a series of 3 or 4 interviews and I had to write things myself and perform pieces to camera. It was quite serious but that gave me piece of mind really that it wasn’t just going to be running around.”
So, were there ever moments in the purple suit when he thought ‘what on earth am I doing here?’
“Oh yes, without a shadow of a doubt” he said, “but then you just have to think ‘I’m doing a job’!”
This year has been the show’s tenth anniversary which has seen Simon on a mini world tour visiting places such as Singapore, New York, Germany, Amsterdam and Paris and doing interviews and finally being revealed as the man behind the suit!
“For the first time they said this is who the Teletubbies are” he said, “it was like being The Beatles, it was wonderful! And there’s some more of that coming next year as well! They’re talking about Australia which would be very exciting!”
Of course, Tinky Winky had another edge to him as well, because, simply down to the fact that the character carried a handbag, he pops up everywhere on the Internet as a gay icon!
“Yes, he does” laughed Simon, “but so does Emma!!”
“Yes” she agreed, “we now have an act called the Sheilas and we do an hour long cabaret show! We do a lot of gay clubs and are very big on the gay scene, so our kids now have two gay icons as parents!”
In the Sheila’s Wheels insurance adverts, Emma is the dark haired one who drives the car, even though there’s actually no engine in it! She told us how she got the part.
“I went for an audition” she said, “because they wanted real singers who could be in the commercials as well, not just actresses or models. I’ve normally just done session singing so I’ve been behind the scenes and you don’t normally see me on television.
“I went to a few auditions – about five – and I was pleased to get it.”
And although the girls released a single off the back of the commercial, it’s not something that Emma really wants to highlight.
“We don’t talk about that” she laughed!
“We had a single out with Pete Waterman called “I’m so happy, happy you’re mine” which went in and out of the charts at number 89!”
So now Emma prefers to concentrate on the cabaret act and also a jazz trio that she’s part of, which will be actually performing at a gig in a pub in Ampthill who put on live music.
But it’s not just Emma who will be doing things locally. Simon is also contributing to life in the town.
“I decided that I would resurrect the theatre school that I had in London called Entertainers” he revealed, “so I’ve started that up for young kids to do singing and dancing.”
He said that after just two weeks he’s already noticed a difference in the youngsters that have been attending.
“We started a couple of weeks ago and a lot of kids have come along” he said.
“The first week that they walked in you could tell they were painfully shy but two weeks later they’re standing on the stage blurting out High School Musical and having a lovely time. I think it’s a fast way of building confidence, and a fun way.”
last updated: 05/12/2008 at 13:20